Gathering Unto His Name - Definitions

A DEFINITION OF THE CHURCH

The meaning of ?church?, ekklesia, is out calling. It is not the kind of a word that can apply to a building, nor is it ever used in the New Testament to describe an organization made up of a number of congregations that have been organized together to form a denomination.

?Church? occurs in the Authorized Version of the New Testament 115 times. Three times it refers to a municipal meeting in the city of Ephesus (Acts 19:32,39), once it refers to Israel (Acts 7:38), the other 111 times it refers either to the church which is the body of Christ (Eph 1:22, 23), or to a church in a locality made up of a company of believers who meet regularly in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as a church of God. We must determine which of the two aspects of the church is in the text by the context.

THE CHURCH WHICH IS HIS BODY

In Matthew 16:18, the church Christ would build was still future. The simple future tense of the verb ?will build? should settle for everyone that the church did not exist before the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit bap­tized believers into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). This was a new beginning and brought into being the spiritual body of Christ (Eph 1:22-23; 2:19-22). It is called, ?the church which is His body?, ?a holy temple in the Lord? and ?a habitation of God through the Spirit?.

The ?body of Christ? is made up of all believers in this church age. All who have been saved in this day of grace have been baptized by the Spirit into the body. This is not a privilege that is reserved for believers who are spiritu­ally advanced beyond others, for even the Corinthians, who were said to be carnal, were ?all baptized into one body.. .and had all been made to drink into one Spirit? (1 Cor 12:13).

This age is a parenthesis in God?s prophetic program for the ages, an inde­terminate period of time that cannot be found in the Old Testament. The great time prophecies of the Old Testament (Lev 23:4 -44; Dan 9:24-27), and the parables of the mystery aspect of the kingdom in the New Testament (Matt 13:1-58), make it clear that the rejection of the King and His death on the cross, stopped the clock of prophecy at the end of the 69th heptad, 483 years from the ?going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem? (Dan 9:25). ?Messiah was cut off, but not for Himself? (v 26). The remainder of the prophetic program awaits the 70th heptad, which we identify as the ?time of trouble? (Dan 12:1), ?the great tribulation? (Rev 7:14).

This ?age of the Spirit? or ?church age? is not part of the divine plan of the ages which centers around God?s purposes for Israel, the earthly people He has chosen. In spite of the one use of the word ?church? for Israel (Acts 7:38), Israel was never the church. Stephen?s use of the word is merely saying that Israel, called out of Egypt to the Lord in the wilderness were also a ?called out? people. Those who were saved out of Israel in early days of testimony, or are saved up to this present day, cease to be part of Israel and become members of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:14-22).

This parenthetic ?church age? fulfills the purpose of God to take out of the Gentiles a people for His name (Acts 15:14). Whatever we see happening in God?s purposes for Israel are no more than ?coming events casting their shad­ows before them?.

THE CHURCH OF GOD - AN ASSEMBLY OF BELIEVERS

The first mention of an assembly of believers in Scripture is found in the words of the Lord in Matthew 18:15-20. Using ?the law of first mention? as a key to understanding Scripture, we can confidently say that this first mention of an assembly contains major features of assembly truth as it is later devel­oped in the Acts, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy.

Never are a number of assemblies joined together and called, The Church of anything. Their are only two aspects of the church in the NT: the ?church which is His body? and a ?church of God?. In the 13 times that this latter term is used, it can be shown that it always refers to a single assembly in a given locality. This is even true of its use by Paul in Galatians 1:13, because the only assembly in existence at that time was the church at Jerusalem even though its members were scattered as far away as Damascus (Acts 8:1).

We have no quarrel with the word ?church?, but prefer to use ?assembly? for a local company because ?church? has at least two very common wrong uses in the religious world. It is frequently used for a building, which it can never be, nor can it be used for an organization, a confederation of congrega­tions that have joined together and taken a denominational name to distinguish them from the rest of the professing church.

When a number of assemblies are being described, they may be called:

1. Churches of God - their purpose.

2. Churches of Christ - their Lord.

3. Churches of saints - their composition.

4. Churches of Gentiles - their background.

5. Churches of Galatia - their location.

ONE DISTINCTIVE NAME - LORD JESUS CHRIST

Matthew 18:20 is the truth of an assembly in the same way that John 3:16 is the truth of the Gospel. We do not question that John 3:16 is a wonderful and full statement of Gospel truth, yet it says nothing directly about sin, re­pentance or justification. Matthew 18:20 does not detail every facet of assem­bly truth, but it is a beautiful comprehensive statement that is in full agree­ment with all that the New Testament reveals about an assembly.

In this first mention of an assembly are four precious truths about the one name in which an assembly is gathered.

The Authority of His name.

The Uniqueness of His name.

The Attraction of His peerless name.

The Exclusion of every other name.

Because the background of this great verse is an offence and a matter of church discipline, it is good to compare it to just such a meeting in the assem­bly at Corinth. Paul wrote, ?In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one...? (1 Cor 5:4). In both cases, the prominent features are: 1. an assembly gathered; 2. in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; 3. with the authority and presence of the Lord Jesus promised. These are features of ev­ery assembly gathering.

A brief, closer look at Matthew 18:20 is necessary:

?For where two or three are? - a meeting is taking place.

?Having been gathered together? - it is a meeting of an assembly that has been gathered as a permanent testimony, called the church (v 17), that has at a time in the past been gathered together by power outside of themselves. This perfect passive particle means that they did not gather themselves. We are assured that God (the Holy Spirit) is the Gatherer (John 4:23; Acts 15:14; 1 Cor 3:6).

In My name - The Gathering Center is the Lord Jesus Christ. ?In (or unto) His name? means attraction to His Person and the recognition of His supreme authority in the gathering.

?There am I in the midst of them? - His abiding presence is promised. The two words that are translated ?in? are different, but closely related. The only way that we can be assured of the second ?in? is to have experienced the first ?in?. Unless we have been gathered out by God from the world and its systems and all that is merely man-made, and been gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, we cannot claim His presence in the midst. This is the very plain definition of a New Testament assembly.

FOUR OBJECTIONS TO THIS --USE OF MATTHEW 18:20

1. Does not contain all the truths about an assembly.

2. No assembly existed when the words were spoken.

3. It is a personal offense, not assembly fellowship.

4. This is a case of discipline.

Objections 1, 2 and 4 are true, but this does not subtract from the impor­tance of this verse. It does not contain all the truth of an assembly, but it is the truth in embryo. No assembly existed at this time, but anyone reading Matthew?s Gospel with care knows that from chapter 11, where the King is rejected, the Lord Jesus gives truth for the time when He will be absent.

It is humbling to us that the first teaching of assembly truth is against a background of human failure; one brother has caused offence to another. But it also encourages us to know that in spite of sin and failure, God can and has maintained testimony to His name. The one sheep that went astray (v 12), is sought diligently by the one, two or three. If they had succeeded in his recov­ery, there would have been great rejoicing. In the refusal of the straying one to hear them or to hear the church, there was great sorrow.

This offence was initially personal and could have been settled between the two participants, but when this failed, it became a matter for seeking shep­herds. When this effort failed, it became a church matter, and when the of­fender would not hear the church, discipline was necessary.

It can be argued that the two or three witnesses (v 16) are the same breth­ren that prayed, and met in verse 20. This means that the meeting together of verse 20 was a meeting of church shepherds (v 12-14), the smallest meeting of an assembly. If this is true, then it can be stated that what is true of the smallest meeting is also true of all assembly meetings, that is, that the gathering is in His name and the Lord Himself is in the midst.

TEN DESCRIPTIVE NAMES FOR AN ASSEMBLY

1. Church of God, 1 Cor 1:2Its purpose.
2. Tillage of God, I Cor 3:9, Its planting.
3. Building of God, 1 Cor 3:9Its pattern.
4. Temple of God, 1 Cor 3:16,    Its praise
5. Body of Christ, 1 Cor 12:27,     Its provision.
6. Chaste virgin, 2 Cor 11:2,  Its purity.
7. Little flock, Acts 20:28,   Its pathway.
8. House of God, 1 Tim 3:15,  Its principles of rule.
9. Pillar of truth, iTim 3:15,Its proclamation.
10. Golden lampstand, Rev 1:20,  Its profession.